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Bush enacts faith-based funding initiativecomment (0)

January 2, 2003

President Bush expanded his initiative supporting federal funding of faith-based and community organizations by signing executive orders Dec. 12 calling for equal treatment of religious organizations in the funding process and creating offices in two more federal departments to further links between the government and social service groups.

The actions, announced at a White House conference of about 1,800 leaders of faith-based and community groups in Philadelphia, enact some of Bush’s goals that were included in legislation that stalled on Capitol Hill.

“If a charity is helping the needy, it should not matter if there is a rabbi on the board, or a cross or a crescent on the wall, or a religious commitment in the charter,” the president said. “The days of discriminating against religious groups just because they are religious are coming to an end.”

The president cited instances where social service organizations were denied federal funds or discouraged from pursuing them, saying “I don’t intend to compromise” on the effort to work for their fair treatment.

One example was Victory Center Rescue Mission in Clinton, Iowa, which lost its chance to open a shelter in 2000 when the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said its board of directors was too religious.

Bringing back hope

Ray Gimenez, executive director of the evangelical Christian ministry, said in an interview he had to sell the desired property to a secular entity and scale down his plans.

“We felt we lost our incentive, we lost our hope,” he said. “What the president did was bring hope back to us. This isn’t about religion. This is about the homeless, the poor, the needy.”

Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, said a “big change” by the president is his amendment of a previous executive order to ensure religious groups receiving fed­eral contracts of more than $10,000 can now have the right to hire employees of a particular faith.

In general, he said the president, through executive orders and a new information booklet, is providing clarity on a confusing issue.

Bush said he has directed HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services to change their regulations to provide equal opportunities for funding organizations. He also has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to change its policies so religious nonprofits can qualify for emergency relief after natural disasters.

In a second executive order, he expanded the number of federal departments with “Centers for Faith-based and Community Initiatives” to seven, now including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Agriculture.         


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